UO was divided into Trammel (safe from PvP) and Felucca (not), and some servers only had Fel. Originally, there was only Fel, and Trammel was made to entice more players who might not want such a cutthroat environment.
In Fel as soon as you left a city you were more or less fair game to die from an extremely hostile environment. PC Gamer (If I recall) described the learning curve of UO as "A frozen wall of acid." Brutal, but very exciting. A wild west MMO.
(In Fel) UO was a rare RPG where anyone could kill anyone, for any reason, but with the repercussion that they would be branded a "Bad person" (visible with a gray or red name instead of blue). Stealing from good people corpses also did this. Anyone can attack and kill bad persons, and if you killed even more people you were a murderer and it took a very long time to return to normal.
This Blue/Gray/Red name system created a sort of cautiousness among travelers. Being near a pack of "blue" people might be safe, since any person that tried to steal or kill would turn gray and they'd immediately kill him.
Unless of course, all those blue-named people were conspiring, and you are the target.
You want to use super awesome powerful gear? None of this sissy MMO stuff. Die and you lose it, and your enemy (or his enemy!) gets the spoils. An insurance system was added later (2005ish?) where you could pay a certain amount per item to not lose it, probably also as an attempt to make the game less harsh.
The problem I have with a lot of MMOs is that the power of your character is simply how much time you sink into the game. Essentially, MMOs are games that reward wasting time.
UO had so much more than that. UO was a game where treachery and sneakiness really paid off, if you wanted them to. Lots of ways to nearly instantly kill or entrap people lead to a lot of very exciting plots where guilds might be laden with spies. Absolutely nothing like the ridiculously limited PvP found in games like WoW.
In a lot of ways it was the Diplomacy (diplomatic back-stabbing board game) of MMOs. And it was great.
For more also see outworlder's excellent comment in the Nomic thread: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4890513
The criticisms of UO wiki page is also a very good read, especially the housing and economy sections: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Ultima_Online
A fun game aswel, chock-a-block full of backstabbing and intrigue. But definitely brutal as hell.
edit: http://www.youtube.com/user/DarkfallOnline for anyone interested.
The majority of players prefer these be in place - otherwise, why keep doing it? But there's still a significant segment of the market that pines for the day when games really kicked you in the ass.
So enter DayZ, and some psycho player with an Axe chases you while playing a creepy loop of a seven year old girl singing, and exploits bugs to kill you completely unfairly, there's a small but significant number of players that will fall in love with a game like that.
But you're not going to convert even a large share of Black Ops 2 players with that experience. It would be like making every car an Ariel Atom.
Later versions (GT4 especially) were much easier, with many more races and tracks and cars. But is it more fun? Is it fun for advanced players to grind through easy races? (even with weird features to increase difficulty and earnings from races?)
Minecraft, no. The majority of Minecraft players have actually never been ganked. It happens, but it isn't a critical part of the game. I've played 50+ hours of Minecraft MP and never been ganked. Fell in lava, but never ganked.
Which creates incentives to cause player deaths. As they say, it's all about what you incentivize.
An insurance system was added later (2005ish?) where you could pay a certain amount per item to not lose it, probably also as an attempt to make the game less harsh.
A band aid.
Most MMOs are structurally the same as resort casinos. There's pretty scenery and distraction which all serves to dress up the primary mechanism of addiction through variable schedule of reward.
Someone should make an MMO where your power is related to what you build, how smart you can work, and how cost effectively you fight. How about a space MMO with a procedurally generated universe of billions of worlds? Allow macro-mining and even provide players an API to write their own scripts. (All in-game resource limited, of course.) Building infrastructure (warp gates) would allow you to exploit resources more efficiently and to charge others a small toll, just like building a railroad would. Server-side execution would allow scripts to have DRM that actually works, so players could license scripts to one another for a fee. I would also have all ship designs be originated by players and licensed. A given design would "auto-nerf" through stat decay over 8 months or so, so there would be an in-game industry of creating new designs and licensing them.
PvP would be entirely be RTS-mode through drone ships purchased by a player or through a mercenary-hire mechanism which lets players participate in RTS battles in hero-class ships. (Which can either be provided by the mercenary or the employer.) Targeting would be done by the computer, with an API provided for players to write their own targeting algorithms. Tactics would depend on dodging and optimal positioning for the given weapon.
The game even had an inbuilt macro system that wasn't super sophisticated but it wasn't considered "hacking" an you could max out the easier skills that way.
So in some sense, the devs actually tried to get rid of the grind element. In any case, it definitely was not institutionalized. You could gain skill in fencing by killing monsters OR by dueling friends. There definitely was not a "kill 6 monsters and return the belts for a cool prize" style stuff. So in some sense, it was a bit like you would have liked, just not as all-out.
The thing is that the better players were people who understood how game mechanics worked, and they were older and more mentally capable than I was at 14. So they understood how to make "builds" and how to strategize, while my efforts were based on trial and error, and thus getting to a good build took the better part of a year than a month.
I would have player character "skills" be a significant but not a dominating factor. Basically, PC "skills" would be automatically learned over time and would be a way to reward players for sticking around. Instead, I would base things more on economic power and kill record. A player can gain more power economically by exploiting a large sector of space, establishing bases, designing/licensing mining/security drones, and building products for players. However, this means they would be mainly playing in the RTS/4X part of the game. The action oriented part would be based on kill record, which would be the ratio of total PC ship value you help destroy over the value of the ships you are destroyed in. Having a high kill record gains "fame" which results in direct monetary rewards and access to (expensive) special items. Something along the lines of players 1 standard deviation above the average kill ratio would randomly receive money for "sponsorships" or be given prototype items to test whenever they are in a winning battle. I would also have another metric of "reputation" which is more based on participation, but which results in lesser rewards.
Another thing I would try out would be to simply grant NPC "followers" to players with a certain level of fame who have stuck around long enough.
I later sold my account and the in-game land for 5k, I regret it to this day :(
What am I doing now you might ask...
I was 14 at the time I believe. I used my dad's Paypal account that I had convinced him to get months before, so he had never used it, and then had to explain how I made $800 on the Internet selling virtual goods. My parents insisted I was actually selling drugs for a good month.
Let one game shard run with central banks, and the current economic system where banks create new credit through thin air. See how that affects the economic system in the game. How it affects house and asset prices, commodity prices and purchase power.
Let another shard run free banking with competing currencies. See how that affect asset prices, commodity and purchase power.
In yet another game world within the same system evaluate Bitcoin and see how that affects house prices, commodity prices etc.
And in another world use hard currencies such as gold and silver as purchase coin, simulate that there are limits on how much gold and silver can me mined.
Let the game worlds run for quite some time! Then evaluate which of all those system lead to the most prosperous game population, choose that for the real economy.
"Human NPCs serve an extremely important role within the economy of UO because they are permanent. That is, real players disconnect to go to bed or (heaven forbid) to go to work and are therefore not online the majority of the time"
"An interesting economic phenomenon occurred concerning the fee charged by vendors. When they were first implemented, vendors charged a fee based on the resource price of their inventory regardless of their sales. With this in mind, clever players realized that they could set the price for the goods to be extraordinarily high and thus prevent anyone from buying them. This, it turned out, was a very effective way of creating a safety-deposit box since the vendors can not be robbed. Players started buying vendors for the sole purpose of increasing their hoarding space. This exacerbated hoarding problems and also resulted in a form of suburban sprawl where people built tents and attached vendors consuming valuable land. The designers ultimately fixed these problems with an elegant economic solution: the vendors now charge a fee based on the value of the goods assigned by the player. Thus, players can still set the values too high, but they will be charged rent proportionately thus deterring this practice dramatically."
"...almost all characters are forced to be entrepreneurs of some type, a fact which doesn’t correspond well to these player’s real life. In other words, most people in real life generate their incomes from employment contracts and thus they understand these arrangements. Unfortunately, such employment contracts are not implemented in UO. Therefore, there is naturally disappointment when players are forced into being entrepreneurs and find that this job is not effortless."
When they set their designs on a closed-loop material economy, they didn't account for extravagant hoarding behavior such as building houses from stacks of leather boots. Occasionally, they couldn't spawn new monsters because the world had ran out of the raw materials the monsters were supposed to drop as loot! They had to inflate the economy several times while trying to find yet another policy fix.
This required that another player literally GIVE me his or her items. As in, I could run off with them if I wanted. There was no trade window that allowed me to repair their items without actually taking them. They had to trust that I would give their items back after repairing them.
I found this absolutely fascinating (and still do) for multiple reasons:
1. Over time you built up a reputation of being trustworthy. At first people would only give a smith they didn't know crappy items, but as you became more trustworthy and well known they would start to hand over their rare items for repair. I was literally building a reputation in an online game, in a real community, for providing a quality service (think about the impact this likely had on a 14 year old, who at that time had no idea what having a job, or building a reputation, was like).
2. Items HAD to be repaired in UO, so this wasn't something players could get around (unless they wanted to train up that skill themselves, and you were limited on how many skills you could train to their max level at any given time). You simply had to trust a blacksmith in order to repair your items. After players came back to town after long sessions of dungeon crawling and killing monsters (in many cases because their armor was in need of repair), they would funnel back into town and the first stop was generally to get repairs.
3. For whatever reason everyone stuck to a tips based system. I don't remember a market rate at any time for repairs that players set as a community. It was just assumed you tipped your smith.
4. The better armor/weapons you personally wore while smithing, the more likely you'd get customers who had better weapons/armor, resulting in higher tips (because they likely had more money). It was my first experience with advertising and building a personal brand.
This is just a taste of why UO was such an amazing game and social experiment. It's a shame nothing has come close to recreating such an experience (EVE Online being an exception, but it still falls short in many ways).
If I had to pick a second fondest aspect of the game, I'd probably say Rune Books. You could "mark" runes in the game with a spell, which coded that rune with the location you were standing in when you marked it, which you could then place in a book. You could then travel back to that exact location at will, at the cost of a spell and its required reagents (hell, the reagents system was amazing as well!). Players made Rune Books of all the towns, dungeons, and crazy hidden locations (or their own homes, favorite shops, etc) for personal use, but also to sell so other players didn't have to make them on their own (as it would require a significant amount of traveling on foot to do so). I remember being very fond of my Rune Book collection.
What a game.
Such a harsh game, but that's what made it exciting. Interactions felt real, and just like in real life while people could be dicks most people chose to be decent.
I'm glad to read this. I thought of a similar system for a space game involving "beacons" and "quantum entanglement." In a space game, one could have billions of procedurally generated locations, so exploration could become an ongoing industry. (And I have a clever user-generated content mechanism for why people would care about exploring countless locations.)
In the closed system, the "pumping up" of resources from the bottom of the top was done by the game administrators, and is very much akin to a government that spends exactly what it taxes.
In the open system, the "drain" at the bottom is still government taxation, while the "faucet" at the top is still government spending.
What the developers of UO learned is that those need to be tuned independently of each other to get a well working economy. If only people understood this about the real economy!
Despite being written more than two decades ago, most of the conclusions from Lessons.. are still fresh and applicable to game mechanics today.
Randall (@frandallfarmer) is also the author of Building Web Reputation Systems, published by O'Reilly - http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/au/3900. Another nice reading, if you're interested in the subject.
I would like to see an article like this, about the economics behind Eve Online. That would be interesting.
I started playing UO when I was about 13. My parents paid the monthly fees for a few months, but I couldn't convince them to keep paying for it. ("Do your homework, Sean!") Frustrated, my friends and I found the free, independent, emulator-run servers and started playing on them. Finding the nuances between the free servers (called "shards"), we settled on one in particular and stayed there for the next few years.
I got bored with playing pretty quickly -- I was never really good at games that required skill or huge amounts of time investment. I started talking with the shard staff, gained their trust, and "graduated" into being a moderator for the server when I was 14 by doing some minor policing (resolving disputes, busting people leveling up with macro programs like UOAssist, etc). I could warp anywhere and got to choose special colours of clothing and had this awesome counselor robe. Looking back, according to , I best fit a "socialiser" player.
Then I got bored of simply moderating. There were a backlog of feature requests to the lone shard developer, who was busy trying to, y'know, have a family and work his day job. At the behest of the Italian couple who ran the server, I began developing for the shard when I was 15 (having not programmed before). I did lots of simple things like create weapons and funny items with special abilities , my favourite being a bag of skipping stones. Then I started doing more complicated things like recreate Triple Triad from FFVIII , and useful things like remake the guild system.
These UO people were my friends, we hung out on IRC every day, and even did a couple of international Secret Santa gift exchanges.
I got bored again around 16 or 17 and forgot about UO, but it had a lasting impact on me:
At 18, I began studying computer science. I realized that the code I wrote to sort a list back in the UO days (not knowing any better) was actually the standard sorting algorithm, bubblesort.
(actually relevant to the link -->) At 19, I started to learn about economics and related it back in a very real way to my days playing UO. I was tempted to go back and try to design a method of distributing wealth that reduced inflation.
And by 20 I realized I was a very good programmer. (I'm now 26.) I still attribute UO at the Italians I've never met in person for that.
 http://neverlands-library.com/index.php?id=4lvl - can't believe I found this / someone documented this
Shards (emulators) let the server owner script and customize the game a lot, such that it rarely resembled the real game. A lot of shards were really shitty, in that the minute you created your character you instantly got full skills, tons of gold, free armor, etc. Thus, there was no pride or value in anything.
SphereServer scripting was very clumsy, written in its own quasi-object language. It had a LOT of flaws, but was leaps and bounds above UOX, the first major emulator.
The RunUO came around, written in C#, and was much faster than SphereServer. It scaled to thousands++ of online users. Scripting was all done in C# as well, meaning things were compiled rather than interpreted at runtime as in SphereServer (some things in Sphere were cached, but not many). Most of the active emulator shards today use RunUO.
I remember learning LUA by writing scripts. Probably my pinnacle here was one to harvest wood / mine automatically, recalling to a bank to drop everything off and then head to a new mine, rotating mines so they wouldn't run out and playing a siren noise and sending me an email when the anti-macro popup would come up.
At this point I was more playing to see how advanced and resilient I could make my script, and less so to play the game, heh.